NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the face of Harlem politics for generations, held off a strong Democratic primary challenge and moved one step closer to what he said will be his 23rd and final term in the House.
Rangel, 84, defeated state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in what was a bruising fight that shed light on the changing face of a district that was once one of the nation's black political power bases.
With 100 percent of the vote counted in unofficial results, Rangel led Espaillat 47.4 percent to 43.6 percent, a difference of fewer than 2,000 votes. About 47,000 votes were counted Tuesday. The Associated Press called Rangel the winner based on fresh information Wednesday afternoon from the city Board of Elections on the numbers of absentee and provisional ballots cast that were not included in the election night tally. The number of absentee and provisional ballots were not sufficient for Espaillat to catch Rangel.
"Fired up and ready to go!'' the congressman declared in a statement thanking voters for "standing with me to the very end and giving this veteran his one last fight."
"I've got a lot of fight in me and will not let them down," said Rangel. He added that he hoped to begin healing the "division that was created during the course of the campaign."
Rangel's campaign had announced earlier Wednesday that he planned to attend a "unity rally" Saturday at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters in Harlem.
"Now that the campaign is over and Congressman Rangel has won, we look forward to coming together and addressing the issues facing the 13th Congressional District," senior campaign adviser Charlie King said in a statement announcing the appearance.
Espaillat's campaign declined to comment.
Rangel Celebrates With Slim Lead, Though Primary Too Close To Call
In such a heavily Democratic district, Rangel is widely expected to win the general election in November.
Rangel showed no reluctance Tuesday to bring the drama-filled campaign to a close.
He took the stage on his final primary night before a victory had been declared, saying he wanted to "sweat it out'' with his supporters in a Harlem ballroom.
What followed was an unprecedented folksy speech that was part thank-you, part real-time political analysis and, eventually, part declaration of victory.
After speaking for more than half an hour, he called Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) to announce the victory as balloons fell from the ceiling.
"This was your victory,'' Rangel told the crowd. "This is your congressman. And you can rest assured all I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing resources back home.''
But upon leaving the stage, Rangel was slightly more cautious in addressing reporters, saying he was "confident'' that his margin of victory would hold but resisting a full-throated reiteration of his victory cry.
Espaillat, who is bidding to become the first person born in the Dominican Republic to be elected to Congress, refused to concede.
He told supporters that the "race was too close to call'' and his campaign said that several thousand absentee and provisional ballots remained uncounted.
"We think it's prudent to wait for the final results before we make any announcement, but I do want to thank all of you for the efforts you put into this race," he said.
AP: Rep. Charles Rangel Holds Off Challenge To Win Congressional Primary
Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman there will probably be "some where between 2,000 and 2,200 hundred paper votes."
So while Espaillat hung his hopes on the absentees and affidavits yet to be counted, the chance of closing the gap is not realistic, Silverman reported.
And even as Espaillat's stage was quickly dismantled and his party emptied out, the possibility of a legal challenge was raised, which could lead to a sequel to the 2012 primary between the two men. The result of that race, which Rangel won by barely 1,000 votes, took two weeks to finalize.
"As we learned in 2012, every single vote needs to be counted in this race," Espaillat said in a statement. "Given the thousands of votes outstanding, the people of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx deserve a full accounting of every vote to achieve a complete and accurate tally in this race."
Rangel announced Tuesday that if he won, his next term would be his last.
Also running in Tuesday's primary was the Rev. Michael Walrond, the pastor of the First Corinthian Baptist Church, and Yolanda Garcia.
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